Often, they can be treated with clot busting drugs, but sometimes that doesn't work. Now, there's a new treatment that could be a life saving option.
Todd Dunlap, 62, of Newbury Park, has been battling malignant melanoma for more than a decade, but a few weeks ago, something else nearly killed him: a two-foot-long blood clot from the top of his heart down to his groin.
Clot busting drugs failed, so Dr. John Moriarty, a UCLA interventional radiologist, gave Dunlap his options: open heart surgery or a minimally invasive procedure to vacuum out the clot called the AngioVac.
"We've never used this exact type of device and never used it in the heart before," said Moriarty.
But the procedure has one big risk: instant death if the clot should break loose during the procedure. Motivated by wanting to get back to playing with grandson Tyler, Dunlap opted for the AngioVac.
"Recovery would be a lot quicker and it seemed like the right thing to do," said Dunlap.
The three-hour procedure is done in a Cath Lab. Moriarty threads a large tube from Dunlap's neck down to where the clot is.
"This stretches out and grabs the clot. It grabs it tightly because then we attach it to a very powerful suction," said Moriarty.
After removing the clot, Dunlap's filtered blood is re-circulated back into his body. After the procedure, Dunlap was able to walk and went home in four days. Now, Dunlap is back to being a doting grandfather.
"Now since I've had my procedure, my energy is better. It's really good to be able to play with him now," said Dunlap.
Experts estimate about one in 500 Americans suffers from blood clots in the legs, and that number can double in those over 80. One or more of the symptoms can be pain, swelling, warmth and redness, but unfortunately, sometimes no symptoms are present with a deep vein thrombosis.